The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter XIV

The Area of Government---States and Districts

§4. As I have already explained, I think it premature here to attempt a final solution of the problem presented by the conflict of sentiments and interests which I have indicated in the preceding section: my present aim is merely to justify a provisional acceptance of the assumption that a modern State is normally a determinate and stable group of human beings, whose government has a practically undisputed right of regulating the legal relations of human beings over a determinate portion of the earth's surface. This assumption granted, we have now to consider how new membership of such a society is to be acquired? To attach it to mere local habitation within the territory of the State is obviously inexpedient: if a foreigner landing in England or France at once became an Englishman or a Frenchman, the inevitable result would be either to dissipate the sentiment of nationality which we have recognised the importance of maintaining, or to hamper intolerably the intercourse between nations. Hence, in all modern States, the distinction between members, and aliens residing within the territory, is maintained; and it is agreed that application of the law of a State to resident or travelling aliens should be limited to those matters in which the admission of diversity of laws would be dangerous or seriously inconvenient to its members.

How, then, is membership of a political society to be determined, if mere local habitation is not sufficient to determine it? There are two obvious alternatives, (1) Birth, and (2) Consent: and the first subdivides again into two, according as ``birth'' is understood to mean either ``birth from parents who are members'' or ``birth within the territory''. The decision in favour of any one of the three principles is, however, of minor importance: because ordinarily all these characteristics are found in combination. Ever since political societies have existed, the quality of membership has been handed down from parents to children, along with the common language, customs, and traditions that constitute the normal bonds of national unity: thus in any modern country the great majority of the inhabitants---born from native parents and on the soil---have been regarded as inchoate members from their birth, and as they have grown up have assumed the rights and obligations Of full membership, without any formal act of consent. With regard, then, to this great majority, it would be superfluous and disturbing to admit any doubt as to their membership, so long as they remain within the territorial limits of the state; the only question practically important---apart from revolutionary changes, tending to the formation of new States---is whether they should be free to leave the community. On this point, as I have already said, the principle of Consent has so far prevailed that freedom of emigration is now practically universal in modern civilised communities: and it seems clear that any substantial and permanent restrictions on such freedom would be out of harmony with the ruling political ideas of these communities. National sentiment, indeed, would condemn any one who left his ``country'' in a crisis in which she had need of his devotion: but it is clear that, in ordinary times, a State framed on a mainly individualistic basis, and therefore not undertaking to secure its members subsistence---at least beyond a minimum given under deterrent conditions---could not consistently keep them from seeking their livelihood elsewhere. We may lay down, then, that expatriation is to be free, and renunciation of citizenship,---with certain restrictions to prevent the evasion of special or temporary obligations,---but on condition of leaving the country. So far as I know, it has never been even proposed that individual members of a State should be allowed to renounce citizenship while remaining within its territorial limits; but in most countries it is possible for a citizen to expatriate himself, acquire a new nationality, and then return to live in his native land as a resident alien. It is, however, clearly inexpedient for a State that this course should be extensively adopted, in order to escape the burdens of citizenship; and, if it were extensively adopted, some measures would doubtless be taken to redress the balance between the burdens and privileges of citizenship, and to make the position of a resident alien clearly less desirable than that of citizen.

We are thus led to consider the conditions under which aliens generally should be admitted to (1) residence and (2) citizenship: but the former question cannot well be separated from the discussion of the external relations of States, to which I shall proceed in the next chapter.' Here, then, I shall only point out that the residence of a large number of persons permanently excluded from citizenship within the territory of. any community involves an obvious danger of weakening the internal coherence of the community. Accordingly, if a State permits the free immigration of foreigners, it seems expedient that admission to citizenship should be generally open to those resident aliens:---provided they have, by sufficiently long, orderly, and unblemished residence within its territory, both shown a settled preference for the social order that it maintains, and acquired a sufficient acquaintance with its laws and political habits to render it fairly probable that they will adequately perform the duties of citizenship.

It remains to settle the minor point, whether parentage or soil is to decide citizenship, in the case of children born in the territory of a state other than that of which their parents are members. This question also belongs to the discussion of the external relations of States, so far as it is a matter on which agreement is desirable between the two States whose members and territories are respectively concerned. Considering it here from the point of view of the State in whose territory the birth takes place, we may lay down that---as it is obviously undesirable, other things being equal, that either State should have unwilling members---the children of resident aliens should be allowed to choose their nationality when they come to years of discretion; so long at least as there is no need of discouraging the residence of aliens on account of their numbers. For the sake of domestic harmony it seems best that the nationality of a married woman should be merged in that of her husband; so that divided parentage will only occur in the case of illegitimate children, and it is comparatively unimportant how its effect on nationality is decided.

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